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Apr 7, 2012

Committee recommends decimalisation of recreational drugs.

This is huge news.

A report prepared by the think tank Australia 21 has recommended the decimalisation of currently illicit drugs. It has declared the war on drugs to be a failure and concludes that the tough law and order approach is doing more harm than good.

The killer blow to the current drug war is that the members are all eminent members of society whose opinions cannot be readily dismissed out of hand. They include:

Mr Mick Palmer AO APM, Former Commissioner, Australian Federal Police; Senator Bob Carr AC, Former Premier of NSW and current minister of Foreign Affairs; Hon Professor Peter Baume AC, Former Minister for Health (Fraser Government); Hon Professor Geoff Gallop AC, Former Premier Western Australia; Nicholas Cowdery AM QC, Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW; Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge, Former Federal Minister for Health (Howard government.

Among the recommendations offered were:

  • Policies be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence and that the primary measure of success should be the reduction of harms to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society.
  • Break the taboo and open debate about promoting policies that effectively reduce consumption and reduce harms related to drug use and drug control policies. Increase research and analysis into the impact of different policies and programs.
  • Replace the current criminalisation and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them.
  • Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs e.g. cannabis, that are designed to undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of citizens.
  • Countries that continue to invest mostly in a law enforcement approach (despite the evidence) should focus their repressive actions on violent organised crime and drug traffickers in order to reduce the harms associated with the illicit drug market.
Some points made:
  • The biggest winners from the current policy are those in league with organised crime and those corrupted by it. Because of their illegality, drugs of dependence are sold at highly inflated prices (an ounce of gold is valued at $1,700 and an ounce of heroin at $12,000). There is a huge industry committed to the maintenance of drug dependence.
  • Other beneficiaries of the current approach include the law enforcement industry, those who benefit from the occupancy of prisons and a thriving insurance industry that insures residents for the high rates of household crime. The converse of this is that law-abiding citizens are the biggest loser.
  • The firm view expressed by those who have been involved in drug law enforcement, was that while law enforcement has produced substantial seizures and convictions, it has done little to curtail the supply of drugs. The overwhelming majority of drug users in Australia say that illicit drugs are ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain. Drugs continue to be readily available on our streets and in our prisons as a result of the lucrative profits enjoyed by those who break the law and produce and distribute these substances.
  • Before it was prohibited in Australia in 1953, heroin was legally available on prescription and cannabis was listed officially as a medicine in the United States until 1937. The Australian government’s decision in 1953 to succumb to international pressure and prohibit the importation and production of heroin was strongly opposed by the Australian medical profession for whom it had been an important component of its therapeutic armamentarium.
  • Portugal in 2001 embarked on a major initiative in which it has lifted all criminal sanctions on use of illicit drugs and committed substantial resources to dissuade drug users from use of these drugs. The evaluation of the program has been positive both with respect to health and social effects on users and the Portuguese civil society.
The PM, Julia Gillard has been critical of the report saying that she is not in favor of decrimilisation of any drug laws. Bob Carr took part in the forum prior to being given the Senate seat and Foreign Affairs portfolio and is now backing away from his previous position on the issue:
Senator Carr, whose brother Greg died of a heroin overdose in 1981, said he supported decriminalising low-level drug use so police could redirect their resources. "A bit of modest decriminalisation, de facto decriminalisation at the edges, simply freeing up police to be doing the things they ought to be doing would be a sensible way of going about it," he told the Seven Network. (Bob is a notorious waffler.)
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is encouraged to see this result. The members of the panel are all high profile respected members of the Australian community, with two ex Premiers, two former Health Ministers, an AFP Commissioner, a Director of Public Prosecutions, just to mention a few.

The LDP is currently constructing a detailed drugs policy, but our position has always been that drug usage falls into the wider category of victimless crime, which should not have criminal sanctions applied to them. If an action can be carried out individually or by consenting adults without interfering with the liberties of third parties crimilising it is merely enforcing bigotry and has no place in a free society.

The full report can be read here:

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